No one can ignore the power of email today. In its 2021 email marketing report, HubSpot found that 4 billion people use email daily, and more than 306 billion emails are sent and received each day.
Email also remains a dominant communication channel for companies. The same HubSpot report noted that 78 percent of marketers have seen an increase in email engagement over the last year. They also reported that four out of five marketers said they’d rather give up social media than email marketing. That’s a pretty compelling testament to its usefulness!
So, in our companies, many of us have seen the power of email. But what if we applied that power to deepening our connections with the people closest to us?
Newsletter Vs. Social Media
My Private Newsletter
In February 2013, I decided to start a monthly email newsletter for family and friends. Things in my life were changing quickly. I had moved to a new city and raised venture capital for my first startup. I found keeping people in my life updated on what was going on difficult. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that most of my friends and family weren’t familiar with startup culture, what goes into growing a business, or the work of a founder. Because my life underwent so many fast-paced changes, I felt like I was losing important connections.
When I started this project in February 2013, email lists like this from individuals were not popular just yet. Most people relied on Facebook to keep everyone up to date on their lives. I wanted something a bit more private, though, where I could document what was really going on rather than the edited version of life we portray through the lens of social media.
I signed up for a free MailChimp account, created a simple form to collect email addresses, and built my campaigns there. To my surprise, everyone I sent the form to was interested in receiving my monthly newsletter!
I sent my first campaign to six people. After I hit send, I still wasn’t sure anyone would be interested in even opening it. I had never seen anyone send something similar and the idea of a private, invite-only newsletter seemed at odds with the idea that massive growth is the sole goal of any email list.
Regardless, I knew for certain that I really enjoyed pressing pause on my startup work and taking time to create the email. I felt good about it. I already had a journaling practice for myself, but taking some of the things I was thinking about and sharing them in a private, digital format with people who I knew supported me was a brand new experience. The email newsletter quickly started to feel intimate in a way I wasn’t expecting.
Over time, I started to include more information in the newsletter. I added photos, links to books I was reading, and shared new music I enjoyed during the month. If I was struggling or feeling down, I would write about those emotions in the month’s email. My newsletter evolved into an unpolished record of what was happening in my life each month for a small group. It was part scrapbook, part gratitude journal, and part celebration of my month. I found it looked nothing like my social media accounts. Probably not coincidentally, it quickly became a special space for me.
Growing and Evolving
In June 2015, I began traveling full-time while working remotely. As a result, my monthly email to friends and family started to look like a game of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? I recapped where I was that month and previewed where I was headed the next month. My email newsletter became a place where I could share new places I saw around the globe with the people closest to me. Catch-up calls weren’t always easy to schedule with time zone differences, so it was a great way to update the entire group at once.
The email newsletters also served as a map of the places I had been for myself to reference later, similar to a lengthy diary entry or an old-school photo album after a memorable vacation. I could look back at, or readers could consult, a certain email newsletter and treat it like a guidebook to a city.
Over time, as my interests changed, so did the email newsletter. It became a place to share stories about personal development workshops and meditation retreats I attended. When I started giving 5 percent of my income to a new charity each month, I used the email to highlight new organizations I had found and the work they did.
Later, I was excited to turn to my monthly email to announce new projects like the release of my book and other career changes. In 2017, I partnered with an author platform called Publishizer to get my book in front of readers and publishers. When I undertook this project, I was grateful to have an audience of people who support me and are accustomed to hearing from me regularly just an email newsletter away.
In fact, I opened the project to them first, even before going to social media to get the word out about the book. Many of the early backers of my book came directly from my email newsletter list. While tweets or LinkedIn posts promoting a project can feel like they’re vanishing into the void, I know my email newsletter has high open rates among people who truly support me and already enjoy seeing me in their inbox each month.
And I have been gratified as my subscriber list has continued to grow. As I’ve met more and more people I admired during my travels around the world, my email list has grown to include all the people whom I wanted to include on my journey. Today, the list is 80 people long.
Learning to Reflect
An email newsletter sent at regular intervals, such as monthly or quarterly, is a great way to keep those close to you updated on your life and work in a genuine way. If you struggle with feeling pressure as an entrepreneur to maintain a certain image online, a private, invite-only email newsletter may be a freeing and creative option to explore.
At first, creating a narrative of your month may feel uncomfortably self-regarding. Even as I approach the ninth year of sending my monthly email, I often have the thought that no one will want to open it and read all about my life. It can feel selfish.
But I receive replies each month from friends and family who are excited to see what I’m up to, offering encouragement, or asking questions about something from the email. The list has become a great way to gather people I trust and who support me in one place. It has become a way to connect with people I care about by letting them into my world by showing them what I value, ideas and opportunities I’m exploring, and any challenges I’m working through.
As great as that connection has been, it turns out that the act of opening up and sharing what’s new with me hasn’t been the only impactful byproduct of my monthly newsletter.
I’ve been surprised to find that I have an increased capacity to identify what’s going well during each month that passes. How often do we realize we haven’t stopped to celebrate our wins, growth, and to acknowledge what we’ve learned in weeks, months, or even years?
In the past, there were times in my life during which incredible things were happening and I didn’t stop to take it all in. I’m proud that I’ve developed the ability to reflect on my life one month at a time by creating this email. On a micro level, this practice impacts how I live my life day-to-day. I find I’m always looking for things to share with my friends and family in my next update. I think that eye for positivity and celebration makes my life a bit brighter!
Launch Your Own Newsletter
On a macro level, sending this email newsletter for coming up on nine years now means I have a truly unique record of my life during that time. It feels more intimate and private than looking back through tweets or Instagram posts. Although the emails are built in MailChimp and replies from readers are delivered to my Google email address, my email newsletter feels like a space that’s mine. From the periodic platform outages and trends towards ephemeral content to as-many-followers-as-possible influencer culture and account suspensions without recourse, I found using the centralized social media platforms we have today to record my life for myself and those I love isn’t a fit for me.
If the idea of gathering a group of supporters you can share things with in a private, yet digital, way — while also strengthening your positivity and presence — sounds like it may be a fun thing to explore, consider starting an invite-only update newsletter. For me, it’s a small practice that has had a massive impact on my outlook and my sense of connection with those I care about.